Morrowind Singularity

I am reading Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime, the well-known book about people who missed The Singularity. Last night, a character explained how an intelligence explosion works. You find ways to improve intelligence; you use that enhanced intelligence to improve intelligence further; repeat as necessary. At some point, you figure out the fundamental principles of the universe and build your own using common household items.

Anarchy Online and Asheron’s Call players have their own recursive self-improvement. Cast your level 5 spells to buff your stats, which lets you wear better equipment, which lets you cast level 6 spells, which lets you wear better equipment… That process caps due to game design choices like diminishing returns and spell durations, as opposed to the intelligence explosion, which is self-accelerating.

Only this morning did I learn that Morrowind includes intelligence explosion as a mechanic. You can beat the game in less than fifteen minutes, starting with the step “Create and drink Fortify Intelligence in batches of 5.” It is like having a skill that grants you bonus experience every time you earn experience, where you improve that skill by earning experience.

And now I have the compulsion to re-read Godel, Escher, Bach.

: Zubon

14 thoughts on “Morrowind Singularity”

  1. I don’t think intelligence really works that way. It works in morrowind because it’s really just manipulating numbers to get a higher number in a game engine, similar to using a glitch in an MMO to speedlevel to cap in a week. It’s hard to see human intelligence as easily quantified where all you need to do is “stack” enough of it to create this singularity.

    I think you can do that with knowledge, but it’s not an explosion, it’s like building a wall, so that you reduce the work each generation of people have to do, and can advance it that way. But intelligence as a capacity is an abstraction I think, and really doesn’t have that kind of stacking relationship.

  2. Don’t worry about it. Some concepts are hard to get the first time. Read up, maybe some Kurzweil or Yudkowsky.

  3. Do you have to read The Peace War first to understand it? I was thinking of reading Marooned but the Peace War didn’t look so interesting to me.

    I am currently reading House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds which is not set in his Revelation Space universe but totally different. It has the somewhat interesting hypothesis that the only way a species can survive is if it is not tied down to any solar systems, not only due to chance of novas or cataclysms, but also war for resources. The only species that survive seem to be nomadic traders.

    Next is The Golden Age by John Wright which is a post singularity novel (I think there is more than one) Then was thinking of reading one or both of those Vinge novels.

    I have Godel Escher Bach I should probably read it too. :)

  4. There’s actually a prequel called “The Peace War” which is a more traditional Sci Fi adventure yarn but introduces some of the concepts in “Marooned”.

    That Morrowind done quick thing blew my mind when I saw it. I must have spent 100+ hours in the game before I finally got around to finishing the plot. Yet I love that you can do stuff like that while remaining entirely within the rules of the game. One of the things I hate about mmos is the artificial limitations on everything just to keep everyone on the one narrow path.

  5. Peace War explains a bit of the background. It helps with a few pieces, particularly some character notes that carry over. It also creates a few subtle points about history, as the future history of the Peace War events is not entirely accurate.

    It probably affects Marooned somewhat more than Ender’s Game affects Speaker for the Dead, but less than a usual original-sequel pair. Say, reading one of the Alice or Pooh books without having read the first.

  6. Hmmm, I’m going to have to read those books, having read the three Kurzweil books pertaining to the Singularity. I’m curious how someone could “miss” the singularity??? Hmmm…

    Darn it. I work at library and we don’t have those books, I’ll have to whack the asst. directory (who is in charge of the collection) LOL

  7. Check for Across Realtime by Vernor Vinge. That is the collected edition of The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime. I can’t imagine that they’re staggeringly popular these days. (And if you read the first, you’ll see how they missed it in the second. Heck, knowing that as the premise of the second lets you deduce a major plot point from the first.)

  8. I do understand it, nancy kress made a smaller example but a better one in beggars in spain, with her sleepless and super-sleepless. Humanity then wound up engineering people who were super-intelligent due to the need not to spend 1/3rd of their life sleeping, and they went on to create the super-sleepless, who were as above them as they were among the literati.

    It won’t work in real life, you engineer people who don’t need sleep you aren’t making geniuses, but psychotics. But its a similiar idea about the singularity and your point i think. It also shows why you should never, ever trust people who do that, because of what they did to the human race in the end, something that seemed beneficial but I think most sane people would find horrific.

    Kurzweil is on my to-read list.

  9. Dblade, that’s an example of not understanding, as if you said that reducing hunger is a bad thing because everyone would starve to death if they did not eat. It’s both beside the point and illogical. (As a note, if you make sleepless psychotics, you have not made people who do not need sleep, you have made people who need it but cannot sleep. It’s the difference between removing suffering and giving everyone congenital analgesia.)

    Try this as the easy version: as you said, knowledge. Effectively add more RAM to your brain, so you now think a few times faster than usual, as if you had added IQ points. You can now assimilate information more quickly, find associations, everything you currently do only you have twice the processing time to do it for every hour that passes. You can now accumulate knowledge more quickly, and if others are similarly upgrading, you can share knowledge with them at similarly upgraded speeds. Repeat.

    Since your example was extrapolating from fiction to reality, let me give you two fictional examples using intelligence explosions that are available free online. The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams is a popular Singularity story with a critical failure of friendly AI. (Chapter two is the most relevant here. Chapter one and others are highly NSFW.) After Life by Simon Funk is less explicit about the recursive self-improvement, because it is more of a sideline. Prime Intellect is intended as a dystopia, although one can debate that given the billions of people who are nothing like Caroline. After Life is a weirdtopia.

    GregT, yep, I’m using some ideas from there, linked above.

  10. IEEE Spectrum Special Report: The Singularity makes for fascinating reading for those interested in the Singularity debate. Both pro and con views from top people in each camp, including Vernor Vinge, are represented.

    My own rough take from this and other sources is that computer/robotics people say “yes” to the Singularity, that brute strength computing will eventually lead there; experts on the brain say “um, no, the brain and intelligence are far more complex than anyone ever imagined”. Good articles that won’t convince Singularity adherents otherwise (nothing will), but will provide a reality check for those who haven’t chosen a belief.

  11. There is some productive give-and-take in the IEEE Spectrum report. An interesting bit to me is that, unless you believe that machine intelligence is impossible, you must accept it as inevitable. It is just a matter of the time frame. Ray Kurzweil expects it in the coming decades, others see if further out or much further out. If we can finesse it and design a better brain, that might not take too long (relatively), but if brute force is needed, we may not be that much further from sufficiently powerful computers. If we need to map one chip per synapse, we will be able to do that at some point, and then it becomes cheap a decade later. If it is possible, it is inevitable.

    Or we could wipe ourselves out before then. A few major catastrophes could push things off by decades, and an extinction event means the next species gets to give it a go.

  12. Ok I’m done with The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime. I need more suggestions. :) But only what is available on Kindle, I can’t go back to meatspace books.

    (Should it be meatspace? paperspace? cellulose space? )

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